At the time I am writing this, I’m curled under a weighted blanket and researching other methods to destress and find that precious work-life balance. Typically, I attempt to make these blog posts evergreen, meaning that I try to not include current events to sure a year from now these posts are relevant.
As important as that is, I’m fairly certain the stress and strain of the pandemic are going to have far-reaching consequences that will require us to keep this in our noodle-noggins (can you tell I am working remotely with my kiddo in the other room doing schoolwork?). Even if the pandemic evaporated like poison fog from a bad sci-fi thriller, we’d all have our share of collective trauma.
So what do we do? How do we manage and cope with this?
In an attempt to develop a better understanding of how to tackle this complex issue, I have started at breaking stress into different segments, looking first at society as a whole and then zooming into our personal lives, after looking at it after work-stress.
Looking at society as a whole, regardless of your view on the situation, we’re all experiencing a substantial impact on our way of life. At the time of writing this, COVID-19 is the ninth deadliest pandemic. That’s massive. Over 2 million souls have been lost. Many people surviving the virus are dealing with long-term effects as well.
At this point, even if you haven’t gotten sick or know anyone who has, you likely have still been impacted. Many have lost their jobs. Loads of schools have closed to in-person instruction. Many businesses have closed their doors unable to survive the strain.
Now, isolated in our homes we’re all reeling from the stress.
Effects of Collective Trauma
As we have taken precautions to stay healthy, many of us are experiencing negative side-effects. Humans are social beings. We thrive when we are in healthy relationships with others. And so the effects of us being separated from others comes at a cost. In fact, we already have articles in peer-reviewed journals, like The Lancet, on how the stressors from quarantining can damage our mental health.
According to The Lancet, people who quarantined are at risk of self-medicating with alcohol and other substances for up to 3 years afterward.
Main symptoms quarantined people face: depression, irritability, PTSD, and more. As we look at ways to shield ourselves from collective trauma, many are fairly straightforward and things you’d already think of – like limiting exposure to stressful news, keeping a routine, practicing a healthy lifestyle.
While our society, as a whole, struggles to come to grips with the mass casualty event and economic impact occurring right outside our doors, we also see work stress rearing its ugly head. Perhaps this happens because dysfunction rarely happens in a vacuum. Once one of the spheres in our lives starts rolling out of whack, the others falter.
When surveyed 60% of respondents don’t believe they have enough time to hit their targets and 20% of them admitted to working 10 hours a day.
So what about work really stresses us out?
- Ambiguous priorities
- Too many meetings (not enough time to accomplish deliverables)
- Not feelings relevant
- Financial concerns
When attempting to get to the heart of what causes stress at work, Ted Bauer expresses that the technology we use in order to accomplish more at work doesn’t reduce our stress levels. To cut all that junk out of our lives we need to start each day focused on 1-2 priorities.
Shoot, even the word priority means to get done before. If everything is a priority, that means nothing is actually a priority.
My Struggle with Work Stress
Now, in a moment of vulnerability, I will admit to struggling with executive dysfunction. On the podcast, I’ve admitted to my “kneejerk no.” Once we get that episode schedule, I’ll link to it. During the podcast, I spent some time analyzing that. In the podcast, I admitted to it feeling hardwired. After quite a bit of really exploring this, what I’ve uncovered is how my brain was preprogrammed. Executive dysfunction is the inability to make decisions. When faced with a complex problem my brain shuts down. My sympathetic nervous system spazzes out and I go fully into fight/flight/freeze mode. My anxiety levels skyrocket and at the moment I am feeling like I’ve been called on to boil the ocean.
Instead of thinking that this should prohibit me from ever working, I’ve been able to build incredible scaffolding to support myself, without realizing the root cause.
To conquer the feeling of drowning in a long to-do list, I take a walk. As I walk I focus on breathing and breaking everything down into steps. And my to-do lists? They are epic. I have checklists of checklists. Each one is systematized. My list puts my blinders on and allows me to zero in on a task.
I can rabbit hole into tasks like few others. Part of this ability is credited to knowing how I operate. Knowing how my mind works allows me to maximize my best parts and create systems to cancel out my, or at least mitigate down fails.
All of my stress becomes so much worse when I am not practicing good self-care and dealing with this mortal shell.
Another component to my work stress was mentioned earlier when I wrote about too many priorities. Internally, I refer to them as competing priorities. Without alignment with my team, I feel like I need to ACCOMPLISH. THEM. ALL. TODAY. Talk about a work-life balance that’s out of whack.
I feel pulled in all of the directions at once. It takes a while to realize work will always be there tomorrow and without knowing how my own brain bends, I am not able to create support systems to prevent me from becoming a neurotic mess, much like, well …you.
On a personal level, we are all aware of how big disruptions like losing your job, divorce, or deaths in your circle stir up the levels of anxiety, depression, and angst within us. Of course, those things affect us.
If I were writing two years ago and the pandemic wasn’t on our radar, I’d have gotten to skip over a majority of what I’ve written and dive into really fun things, like midlife crises.
Seriously, though. Imagine you weren’t smack dab in the middle of a stress ball. Many people I know, both my age and older, suffer from this belief we should have accomplished more by the time we hit this number of trips around the sun.
We compare ourselves to friends and family – even celebrities. We note how some in our circle are more advanced in their careers, others have hit milestones with their romantic life or whatever than we are. The problem is – no one is all of those things. This kind of stuff leads to us overloading and burning out.
It’s what likely contributes to midlife crises. All of these pressures and expectations we have for ourselves causes us to feel our lowest.
But what if all the research about midlife crises is backwards? Most studies plot happiness scores from a variety of people at various points of their lives and pits them against each other. It doesn’t follow you throughout your life and compares you in aggregate with others.
Flipping the existing research on its head allows us to really think about what this means.
You have agency over your life.
You can control how you view your circumstances. Reframing your narrative could allow you to banish any imposter syndrome you face. You can make positive changes and live a more creative life.
Destressing and Finding Balance
So how do we do this? On our podcast we talk a lot about balance. I’d love to cite a specific episode, but it honestly pops up in nearly every. Single. Episode. Our bodies are so sensitive. We need a balance of everything to live optimally.
It’s important we drink water, but we can drink too much water and die. We need sunlight to absorb enough vitamin D or we suffer from seasonal depression. Soak up too much sun and we burn. We need vocation to keep our minds sharp and give us a purpose in life. Too much work and we can work ourselves into the grave. In fact, this is so common in Japan they have a word to describe keeling over at your desk.
Work Life Balance
The greatest thing I watch my coworkers and peers struggle with is that precious work life balance. Of course, no one wants to die collating a TPS report. On my deathbed, I am unlikely to want to have been to one more status meeting. I’m likely going to wish I’d watched one more elementary school play of kiddo dressed as a tree with the stage lights melting off grease paint. I will have wished I had been more present on a trip to the beach with the family.
I will want meaning. There is incredible meaning to get found within ourselves at work too, for sure. I enjoy working with the team at Orange Nebula because we crave creating a legacy. We believe in designing around a sacred concept.
Part of that sacred concept needs to be ourselves. We need to design our lives with intention around the belief that we want to live wholly. We can only create our greatest impact if we have pulled together firm understandings of who we are and how we need to take care of ourselves in order to operate at our bests. Ultimately this means we all need to pay attention to that voice inside of us that illuminates what we need to maintain that work-life balance.
Some of us need more time to stare at a wall and daydream. Some of us need more leafy greens. Maybe we need to work more. In all likelihood, we need to work smarter; planning our schedules around activities we will regret missing at the ends of our lives.